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Friday, May 25, 2018, 2:29 a.m.

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RESTAURANT REVIEW + PHOTOS: Have a ball dining at downtown Little Rock's new Dust Bowl

By Jennifer Christman

This article was published February 1, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

totchos-tater-tots-with-pulled-pork-refried-beans-monterey-jack-and-chipotle-aioli-are-an-appetizer-at-dust-bowl-lanes-lounge-in-little-rock

Totchos — tater tots with pulled pork, refried beans, Monterey Jack and chipotle aioli — are an appetizer at Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge in Little Rock.

Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge

Address: 315 E. Capitol Ave., Little Rock

Hours: 4 p.m.-2 am. Monday-Friday, noon-2 a.m. Saturday, noon-midnight Sunday

Cuisine: Bar fare, burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Reservations: Yes

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Carryout: Yes

(501) 353-0775

dustbowlok.com, facebook.com/DustBowlLR/

Click here for larger versions
Photos by Jennifer Christman

A bowler goes for a strike as diners go for some poutine in the lounge area of Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge in Little Rock.

Very hot dog: The spicy Dust Bowl Dog is topped with cheddar, candied bacon, jalapeno relish and mayo at Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge in Little Rock.

This is "Totcho" average bowling alley.

In addition to bowling, a bar and karaoke, retro Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge, an Oklahoma outfit that recently opened a location in downtown Little Rock, offers relatively sophisticated finger fare: duck-fat fries, poutine and Totchos, a terrific tater-tot take on nachos heaped with tasty pulled pork, refried beans, Monterey Jack cheese and chipotle aioli.

Dust Bowl also has relatively sophisticated prices. The cost of those Totchos: $12.95.

That's not the priciest item, but almost. For those wanting to wash them down with a shake, there's the Extreme, with Tillamook ice cream, caramel, hot chocolate, whipped cream, cookies, sprinkles, and yet, no alcohol, for $15 (!). That is, if the shake machine is working. It was nonoperational when we went (no, Dust Bowl is not owned by McDonald's, but rather McNellie's Group). It is just as well; it made my tummy tight imagining how I'd justify a $15 shake on my work expense report.

With wood paneling and burnt orange accents and stool seating, Dust Bowl, in the former M.M. Eberts American Legion Post building, looks straight out of the 1970s (not so with the music, which skews more '80s to early 2000s: The Mary Jane Girls, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Janet Jackson). But Dust Bowl is by no means dusty. Everything looks rather pristine, down to the shiny -- and slick, careful! -- wooden lanes salvaged from an Oklahoma alley.

As there are only eight lanes, counting two private ones, making a reservation is advised during peak times. So is patience. When we tried to call in a reservation, no one answered. When we went on Facebook Messenger, we were told to call (easier said than done) or to email.

Luckily we did get someone on the phone eventually because our email wasn't answered until several hours later, and by then all the slots on our desired day were filled. We've since noticed there's a "Reserve a Lane" feature on dustbowlok.com/locations/little-rock, powered by OpenTable.

Except for Friday and Saturday nights, when it's $30 per hour, bowling per lane is $20 per hour. And there's also a shoe rental charge (the two adults in our party paid $3.50 each).

Customers are welcome to eat and drink while they bowl; orders are taken and brought to their lane by servers. And we saw plenty of people -- groups of hipster friends and families with kids -- happily doing just that.

But being moderately germophobic, we couldn't get past the idea of eating with the same hands that just put on borrowed shoes and stuck fingers in communal bowling balls -- and, eww, during flu season?! So our first visit, we just ordered Cokes (and were served Pepsi, yuck, with no advance warning) and waited to eat until after bowling -- and a thorough hand-washing.

Those wanting to sip something stronger can choose from a good variety of bottled or draft beer, a small selection of wine and specialty cocktails ($9-$11) like the Kingpin ($9) of gin, curacao, cranberry syrup and club soda. And for those who like to share, there are Punch Bowls (like the Sparrow of pomegranate and cranberry juices, vodka, champagne, cinnamon syrup and ginger beer) that serve four for $32 or eight for $60.

While seated at one of the three tables in the lounge area, which also has seating at the bar, we ordered the aforementioned Totchos to share, as well as a Spicy Bacon Cheeseburger ($6.95 single, $9.95 double), described as having bacon, "cherry pepper" and "fancy sauce," and a Dust Bowl Dog ($6.45) with "cheddar, candied bacon, jalapeno relish and mayo." All dogs, says the menu, are "Fassler Hall made all beef hot dogs on butter toasted bun," referring to the McNellie's Group's "beer and sausage hall," under construction next door.

When the Dust Bowl menu says spicy, it means it. I'm never one to shy away from heat, but I couldn't eat most of the burger, which was caked with red fiery relish. And though my date's generously topped dog was to have jalapeno relish, it looked to be heaped with the same blazing concoction that coated the burger. We couldn't decide what was worse: the burn that was too overwhelming to bear or the Pepsi -- ugh -- we had to gulp to put it out.

So we vowed not to sample anything spicy on our second visit. Though we almost broke that pact once we saw how delicious a Hot Chicken Sandwich ($9.95) looked coming out of the kitchen.

Still we kept our resolve and ordered tamer fare: Poutine ($8.25), a Jumbo Onion Burger ($4.95 single, $7.95 double) and a Grilled Chicken Gyro ($9.45).

This was the first time we had ever sampled poutine, the Quebec comfort food of fries, gravy and cheese curds. Dust Bowl's version, which has a thin gravy with big pieces of mushroom, some melted cheese and some parsley, was delish, though we can't speak for its authenticity. We texted a photo to the niece who grew up in Canada; she said it looked pretty good, but it could use thicker gravy and more cheese. We wouldn't disagree.

Other appetizers ($5.25-$9.95) are Hot Chicken Poppers, onion rings, skillet queso, chips and dip, pork street tacos and beet hummus. There's also hummus and carrots ($3.95) listed as a side and hummus on the Veggie Gyro Sandwich ($8.45); those plus a Black Bean Burger ($8.25) make up the menu's vegetarian choices.

I would wish I had ordered that Hot Chicken Sandwich once my Grilled Chicken Gyro arrived. The wrap of grilled chicken, tzatziki, cucumber, feta, lettuce and tomato was satisfactory, but nothing special.

My date thoroughly enjoyed his double Jumbo Onion Burger, which at first didn't look like all that much, but featured mustard and a deceptive amount of caramelized onions hiding in the American cheese.

He really was bowled over.

Weekend on 02/01/2018

Print Headline: Dining at Dust Bowl: Have a ball

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